Most requirements for corrective action set by regulators in a dispute between U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, and an energy company drilling near his weekend retreat in rural Weld County have been met, according to a state spokesman.
Still outstanding, however, is resolution of a possible financial penalty against Denver-based Sundance Energy, proposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at $26,000.
In the eyes of Polis, who represents Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, that's not enough.
"What I am seeking is that the penalty be increased to $60,000, which we feel would reflect the number of violations, and we would continue to ask that the well that was drilled illegally, that they not be able to extract from that well," Polis said.
His complaint with Sundance Energy erupted in mid-July, when he discovered that drilling, in advance of a presumed hydraulic fracturing operation, was suddenly under way across the road from a property he owns at county roads 5 and 42 in Weld County, east of Berthoud.
Polis has complained that his 50-acre retreat, typically used as the full-time residence of his partner's father and sister, was nearly rendered uninhabitable due to issues such as the noise, dust and traffic associated with the drilling work.
Friday marks a deadline for Sundance Energy, set by the COGCC, to respond to a notice of alleged violation from the state, which charged that Sundance violated setback distances from two county roads and an overhead power line. The state also alleged that Sundance reported inaccurate setback distances on its application for a permit to drill.
State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman had said earlier this month that the COGCC issued what is called an administrative order on consent, proposing $26,000 in penalties for the alleged violations. That required Sundance to meet with Polis and the COGCC to talk about drilling plans and mitigation measures, with all corrective actions to be completed by Friday.
On Thursday, Hartman stated in an email, "We believe Sundance has complied with the Aug. 30 deadline for corrective actions, including meeting with the neighboring landowner and submitting the proper notices through COGCC for changing the surface locations for drilling."
Hartman said Friday's deadline, however, did not apply to an agreement on a proposed penalty.
In an emailed statement, a representative of Sundance said, "While we do not comment on ongoing discussions with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, our operation is in full compliance with all COGCC rules.
"Additionally, we have voluntarily implemented a number of mitigation measures to minimize any impacts our operations might have on the property in question."
Polis confirmed he had met with representatives of Sundance late last week.
However, he said, "In the meantime, the fracking has occurred, the active phase of injection of the drilling fluids into the well has begun, and will presumably be completed shortly."
The congressman said the entire experience "is just an example of how little rights that homeowners have; how, without recourse, families can be driven from their homes for weeks or even months, and we really need to change the laws in Colorado."
As for his meeting with Sundance, Polis said, "Frankly, it is the kind of thing that should be available to everybody affected, before the process begins. We were just finding out for the first time, all of these questions that we did not have answers to. We only found out late in the process, as a result of the complaints (filing) process."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ___
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